Defense of Marriage Act Gets an Annulment
By Rod Pennington
Since President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 the clock has been ticking for it to be overturned. DOMA gave the federal government the right to overlook a state sanctioned same-sex marriage and deny the couples the rights and privileges such a union would infer. Many legal scholars felt it was a constitutional challenge just waiting to happen. The only surprising thing, with several states having already passed same-sex marriage laws, is that it has taken this long.
In Boston, Federal Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled DOMA violates the Constitutional rights of married same-sex couples to equal protection under the law. Since the federal government had a long history of allowing states to set their own marriage laws, Judge Tauro felt this was an overreach.
In his ruling Judge Tauro stated, “This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth (Massachusetts) to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status.” Tauro continued, “The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state.”
Tauro waxed eloquently on the long history of state’s rights, concluding that since the very inception of our county the definition of what constitutes a marriage is “such an essential element of state power.”
As would be expected gay rights activists cheered the ruling, saying it affirmed that same-sex couples are entitled to the same protection under the law. Attorney General Martha Coakley, famous for losing the “Kennedy” US Senate seat this past January to Republican Scott Brown (R-MA), brought the suit challenging the law, also applauded the ruling.
“Today’s landmark decision is an important step toward achieving equality for all married couples in Massachusetts and assuring that all of our citizens enjoy the same rights and protections under our Constitution.” Coakley also said in her statement. “It is unconstitutional for the federal government to discriminate, as it does because of DOMA’s restrictive definition of marriage. It is also unconstitutional for the federal government to decide who is married and to create a system of first- and second-class marriages.”
There will be the expected uproar of “pro-family” defenders of DOMA. They will shout this is judicial activism at its worst and a perfect example of a judge legislating from the bench. It is neither.
DOMA was passed and signed into law just 2 months before the 1996 election. The timing was no accident. It received broad bi-partisan support and gave political cover, mostly to Democrats, to let them be on record as “pro-family” and kept them from being branded as “pro-gay.” Everyone involved in the bill knew it would not pass muster of a Supreme Court challenge so it was mostly political theater Washington is so fond of.
The irony here, the same folks who protested the loudest when the federal government imposed things upon the states like school busing, 55 MPH speed limits, American with Disabilities act provisions, etc. are now born again big government advocates. You have to wonder how they will feel if Arizona’s new Immigration Law is upheld for roughly the same reason DOMA was overturned.
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